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Crusader Kings III beginner’s guide: 10 tips and tricks to get started

How do you think you’d fare if put in charge of an entire medieval kingdom? What if you had to work your way up with nothing but aspirations of leading the Holy Roman Empire? In Crusader Kings III, you can do both and more!

Released on PC in 2020 but ported to console at the end of March 2022, Crusader Kings III puts players at the helm of their own destiny. You’ll raise armies, claim land, and build empires from the ground up. However, you’ll probably get run off the face of the earth a few times unless you understand the finer mechanics of the game.

Crusader Kings III is a massive game with more mechanics than one of those big-box tabletop RPGs you’ll find at your local game shop. With several skills to manage, people to please (or assassinate), and kingdoms to control, new players can lean on the following Crusader Kings III tips and tricks for beginners to get them through their first campaign. That being said, don’t plan on conquering the world in your first dynasty.

As a bonus tip, before we dive headfirst into the others, start small and play patiently. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It won’t be captured in one either. Here are some essential Crusader Kings III tips and tricks for beginners.

Play the tutorial

Two faction square off in Crusader Kings III.

We know what you’re thinking — “Obviously, I’m going to play the tutorial.” However, you need to know a few things about the Crusader Kings III tutorial before jumping in. First off, it’s dense, long, and often boring. You’re about to be hit with a textbook of terms, Latin phrases, and mechanics that’ll overwhelm even the savviest of RPG fans. Take the time to read each tutorial step, re-read each step, and then understand how your actions affect your game.

Use your tooltips

The tooltip menu expands three times in Crusader Kings III.

The tooltip is the most helpful weapon you have in your arsenal. Press and hold L3 until the screen turns a hue of gray and a highlighted gauntlet appears as your cursor. Then, move that gauntlet over any word or on-screen mechanic you don’t understand.

A small window pops up defining that particular mechanic. Still, the definition itself is laden with several other highlighted words you might find confusing. Be ready to spend a solid hour learning these new terms in the tutorial. Believe us, things will make more sense through trial and error as you start playing.

You can also keep tooltips on at all times. When you hover over a person, location, mechanic, or skill, an informative window pops up with everything you need to know. You’ll see your navigation controls in the bottom-left corner of your screen. Pressing L3 turns your tooltips on and off, and you’ll see it pop up in place of navigation controls for a few seconds.

Having them on is helpful when random events pop up, leaving you with a decision to make. With tooltips on, the game will show you the possible outcomes of each situation. With them off, you’re left to your own devices. When those decisions pop up, you can quickly turn them on or off by holding L3 to bring up your cursor again. Clicking on the decisions shows you the outcome without selecting it.

Tooltip pop-ups can get annoying, especially when navigating your court or looking at other characters. Keep them off once you get a hand on everything, and then turn them on when you need explanations.

As a quick bonus tip in this section, you can manipulate your tooltip settings to pop up more frequently. Pause the game, scroll down to Options and then choose Settings. Locate Auto tooltip delay and move the slider left to .50 seconds. Now, your tooltips will pop up more frequently.

Selecting your character

The character selection screen in Crusader Kings III.

Now that you’ve played through the tutorial, it’s time to select your starting character in Crusader Kings III. When you select New game, you’re met with several starting options. You can choose to begin in the year 867 or advance a little further to 1066. If you’re looking for a longer game, select 867. The game “ends” sometime in the mid-1400s or when you have nobody to inherit your lands.

You also have several recommended characters to choose from, each starting in a different spot on the world map. In the tutorial, you played Petty King Murchad of Irland. If you’re looking for some familiarity, he’s a decent place to start. However, you’re not bound to these suggested characters.

Select Play as any ruler from the lefthand side to bring up a new screen. Here, you can set the game difficulty, open up your world for multiplayer (which we don’t recommend right now), and, most importantly, decide where your story begins.

Choose Pick character to pull up the entire map. Zoom into the map to uncover small regions held by low-level nobles or zoom out to assume control of vast empires controlled by great kings. You can literally play as anybody. So, who should you start as in Crusader Kings III?

Count Roger of Messina from Crusader Kings III.

For your first campaign, you should start small. Choose an area that isn’t highly contested (so not England, Rome, Italy, etc.) and make sure you have somebody above you, your liege, who’ll have your back in a fight. Count Roger of Messina (in Sicily and pictured above) is a good option. He’s got a handful of counties under his belt and a decent liege at his back. Look for other characters with similar qualities.

For the sake of learning, don’t choose someone who already controls a Duchy (the second of four title tiers we’ll explain later). Instead, pick someone who could make some military moves to capture that Duchy.

If you can, avoid picking a character that already has children (or heirs). You can manipulate your unborn children’s traits through marriage but can’t do anything about a preexisting child. Again, we’ll explain that in greater detail later on. Still, there’s a limited number of characters without heirs already, so you may want to focus on manipulating the skills of your grandchildren if you’re insistent upon playing someone with an heir already.

Finally, and most importantly, you can see a character’s skills before you pick them. The game randomly generates these every time. Suppose you select a character and don’t get the stats you’re looking for (high stewardship, for example). In that case, there’s no shame in backing out and selecting that character again, effectively rerolling them. All the starting characters remain the same, but their stats change every time, which is excellent for replayability!

Tap over to Game settings once you find someone you like with the skills and traits you’re looking for. You can change the difficulty and change a few other settings. For now, set the game to easy (which is still very challenging!).

Counties, Duchies, Kingdoms, and Empires

The full map zoomed out in Crusader Kings III.

When picking your character, you’ll see that some of them own different land tiers. These tiers are:

  • Counties (small)
  • Duchies (medium)
  • Kingdoms (large)
  • Empires (massive)

Arranged by De Jure law (basically Latin for “legally part of”), several counties make up a Duchy, several Duchies make up a Kingdom, and several Kingdoms make up an Empire. It doesn’t help that, depending on where you are in the world, these land tiers have different names, and the person holding them has different titles.

For example, a county owner in England is the Count of that county (easy enough). However, a county owner on the southern tip of India is the Thakur of that Thikana (wait … what?). Just remember that everything works on the same De Jure system, and the land sizes mentioned above work everywhere in the world. If it helps, you can think of them as small, medium, large, and massive.

You don’t have to take over the world to have fun in Crusader Kings III. Focus on maintaining control in your corner of the map, forming alliances, and just trying to become king somewhere.

Before you unpause

The pause button is your best friend in Crusader Kings III. However, this is different from the more general pause function that’ll bring up your options menu. We’re talking about your ability to pause time, which is crucial to strategizing. After selecting your character, the game launches in a paused state. Do not unpause time until you complete the following steps.

Make a plan

How do you want to play your game? Do you want to take over as many counties as possible? Do you want to become filthy rich? Do you want to harness your inner Tyrion Lannister and make shady deals worldwide?

All are real possibilities, but you’ll be pushed in some direction more than others based on your stats. Remember, you can always back out and reroll the board if you want a particular character but are determined to play a certain way.

Let’s take the “become filthy rich” example. First, we’ll reroll until we get high stewardship on our character. In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into stats, skills, and traits. For now, just know that stewardship governs how much money you make. With that plan in mind, let’s approach the following steps to align with our greedy goals.

Get married

If you aren’t already, you can go spouse hunting to serve one of three purposes. You can choose a spouse with:

  • Good congenital (inheritable) traits
  • Strong alliances
  • Solid skills that offset or bolster yours

This decision ultimately depends on what you’re going for in your first character’s lifetime. Remember, Crusader Kings III is about the long game. When you die, you’ll play as your heir until your line dies out or the game ends naturally.

If you’re looking to build the perfect children, select a spouse with good inheritable traits. There are far too many to cover in one guide, but let’s talk about how to figure them out at least. In the spousal selection screen:

  • Select More options
  • Tab down to Traits
  • Change to Inheritable

Now, your potential spouse pool populates with people with inheritable traits. To read what the trait does, select the character, then select their traits (the icons between their picture and stats). The inheritable trait is labeled Congenital and is usually the second one listed.

The Comely trait in Crusader Kings III.

In the image above, Court Shaman Ubax of Mait has a trait called Comely, which boosts fertility and gives +1 to her diplomacy. That’s decent, but there are better traits out there. Your available pool is limited based on where you start in the world. She also has the Lazy trait, which isn’t helpful at all. As you can see, there’s a lot of give and take when it comes to traits.

Once you’ve selected a spouse, unpause time momentarily for the proposal to go through. Pause time once more after they accept and become your spouse.

Determine your lifestyle

Characters have three lifestyle choices in Crusader Kings III.

Now that you’re married, it’s time to determine the life you’ll lead. With your character selected, press and hold L2 to bring up the character wheel. Then, select Lifestyle from the wheel. You’ll have a buffed lifestyle path to choose from based on your stats. In the example above, we have high stewardship, so the game suggests we choose this lifestyle path. However, you’re free to choose any lifestyle based on your overall plan. You can also freely bounce between them if you want to grab certain perks from different trees.

Sometimes, you’ll already have several perks selected. This is based on your age, as the AI randomly selects perks for older characters. From here, you’ll choose between three lifestyle focuses. Our character already has 17 stewardship, so the Domain Focus might be overkill. Instead, let’s select Wealth Focus to boost our income by 10%. This selection doesn’t affect which perk tree you can fill.

Skills and traits in Crusader Kings III

A players skills explained in Crusader Kings III.

Your skills are your stats in Crusader Kings III. They govern how well you’ll perform specific schemes, how much money you can make, and what people think of you. Here’s a brief breakdown of every skill in Crusader Kings III.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy, denoted by a blue scroll, governs what people think of you. Characters with high diplomacy have an easier time getting others to like them. This makes forming alliances more frequent while lessening the chance of an uprising against you. You can think of diplomacy like your charisma stat.

Martial

Martial, denoted by a red pair of crossed swords, determines how good you are at waging war and leading armies. However, if you’re not the commander of your army, your martial skill doesn’t matter much. Think of martial as your strength stat, but only when you are leading your armies into battle.

Stewardship

Stewardship, denoted by a green chest of gold, governs how much you’ll collect in taxes (gold) from your domain. The higher your stewardship, the higher your taxes (without upsetting people). You can think of stewardship as your bargaining power.

Intrigue

Intrigue, denoted by a purple letter and dagger, is where things get fun in Crusader Kings III. High intrigue lets you pull off murder and kidnapping schemes, fabricate hooks on others, and manipulate characters in general. This is where you Tyrion Lannisters will have plenty of fun. Think of intrigue as a dark charisma skill.

Learning

Learning, denoted by a black stack of books, governs how smart you are, mainly in the eyes of the church and your labor forces. Learned characters increase their monthly piety (religious currency) and are better at building within their domain. Learning is an interesting perk that doesn’t really have a comparison to other RPGs.

What are traits in Crusader Kings III?

Traits in Crusader Kings III are like perks that buff or debuff your skills. Over time, you’ll adopt new traits as you complete random events and earn XP towards your lifestyle. Traits can directly help/hurt you or indirectly help/hurt you. Here’s what we mean.

The Midas Touched trait explained in Crusader Kings III.

The Midas Touched trait on this character gives us +8 Stewardship (which is great for our “get rich” plan). However, we also have the Chase trait, which makes us less fertile, thus limiting the number of kids we can have. Both of these are affecting us passively and directly.

However, those under our control, our Vassals, could have traits that help or hurt us indirectly. These take several playthroughs to figure out. You’ll eventually learn which traits you don’t want in a Vassal and which you do. As a quick example, the Ambitious trait hurts that Character’s opinion of their liege, making them more likely to rise up against you. Alternatively, the Trusting trait improves their opinion of their liege, making them less likely to rise up against them.

Understanding your Court and Council

The king's council seats in Crusader Kings III.

In Crusader Kings III, your court and council are two different things, with your council being far more important. Your court is made up of everyone hanging out in your territory. This includes children, relatives, vassals, knights, and random guests.

On the other hand, your council is your team of trusted advisors. Each council member performs a specific job based on their skills and role. The higher the skills, the better the job. So what does each position do?

There are four central positions you should be worried about for the most part. They are your Chancellor, Steward, Marshal, and Spymaster. Furthermore, each post has two or three tasks they can tackle. Here’s everything you need to know about them.

The Chancellor

Your Chancellor relies on their diplomacy still to increase relations either inside your realm or in foreign lands. You can set your Chancellor to focus on foreign affairs, which boosts your monthly prestige. Or, they can focus on domestic affairs to increase the opinion of your vassals.

The Steward

Your Steward relies on their stewardship skill to collect taxes from your holdings. You can have them focus on collecting taxes, thus boosting your monthly income. Or, they can focus on increasing development in your holdings, which ups your building speed and increases taxes and levies earned from that county.

The Marshal

Your Marshal relies on their martial skill to grow and lead your armies. A powerful Marshal can turn the tide of any battle. You can have them focus on building your army by organizing levies. Or they can train commanders to make running your army much cheaper. Once you start moving into new lands, you’ll send your Marshal to increase control in a county to increase taxes and levies from that new county.

The Spymaster

Your Spymaster relies on their intrigue still to aid you with schemes. They’ll also work to prevent plots against you (because multiple people are probably trying to kill you all the time). Finally, you can send them to find secrets in other characters’ courts, thus gaining valuable hooks you can use to grow your empire.

The other two council spots are reserved for your spouse and religious leader. Your spouse can grant passive buffs to all your skills or focus on one skill in particular. For example, if you’re trying to get someone to like you, have your spouse boost your diplomacy skill for a better outcome.

However, when you get married, your spouse must be a member of your court. If they are their own independent ruler, they’ll remain in their home country and cannot sit on your council.

Your religious leader works on increasing your piety but is also crucial in gaining claims on new land. You’ll send them to fabricate claims on other lands, giving you a valid reason to go to war. The better their learning skill, the more effective they’ll be.

The eight to 15 rule

Here’s a quick Crusader Kings III tip to consider when choosing councilors. Anybody below an eight for that particular skill will produce mostly negative results. Anybody above a 15 in that skill will only produce positive results. Someone in the middle has an even chance of both. So, always aim for someone with at least 15 skill points for the associated council position.

Marry off your courtiers

A player goes looking for spouses with good traits in Crusader Kings III.

Your courtiers are the members of your court. Usually, your court is full of family and knights. However, random people show up from time to time. If they’re single, you can marry them off to attract high-skill people to your court and appoint them to your council. To do this:

  • Select and courtier and choose Find spouse.
  • Filter for the skills your want — for example, High diplomacy.
  • Most governments and religions only allow for female Spymasters. If you’re looking for a new Chancellor, set the marriage to Matrilineal. This makes sure the husband arrives in your court. You can also turn off archaic gender laws via the Options menu.
  • Now, you can appoint them to a council position.

This only works with normal courtiers. Don’t marry off your children for counselors. Save them for solid alliances.

Your strong Vassals will expect positions on the council. If their skills are good enough (between eight and 15), give them a seat. This keeps them happy and the gold and soldiers flowing. If they’re terrible (skill-wise), try to appease them in other ways like sending gifts and using sway schemes. This brings us to the next tip.

Managing Vassals and domain limits

Vassals are the overseers of your territories. They collect taxes and levies and give you a percentage of both. Your Powerful Vassals, indicated in red lettering, control several decisions surrounding laws in your lands. If you’re looking to change your succession laws, you’ll need to appease your powerful Vassals.

You’ll see your domain limit at the end of your currencies (gold, prestige, piety, and army). These are the number of holdings you can keep directly under you without giving them away. You don’t technically have to give them away if you go over, but you’ll suffer several debuffs. Your Vassals will also think less of you. You collect all the taxes and levies from the holdings underneath you, so do everything to keep yourself at max holdings. Finally, you’ll know which holdings are yours when you can see their name on your map.

However, those holdings are split between your heirs when you eventually die. This is where changing succession law comes into play, which we’ll touch on later in the article. For now, hoard as many holdings as you can during your first life.

Gold, prestige, and piety: How to earn more in Crusader Kings III?

Gold, prestige, and piety are three different forms of currency in Crusader Kings III.

Gold has its obvious benefits. You’ll use it to buy new holdings within your counties, send gifts, and upgrade buildings. You can earn more gold by taking over more land, upgrading your personal holdings, or increasing your crown authority. Catholics can also ask the head of their faith, the Pope, for gold every so often.

Prestige is like your level of fame. You spend it whenever you declare war or make different choices. You can gain prestige by having a strong Chancellor, winning and helping allies in wars, and going on hunts.

Piety is based on your religion, and the holier thine are, the more piety thine earn. You’ll spend piety on Holy Wars, a form of war between two religions. The more piety you have, the more favors you can call on from your head of faith. You can earn piety by going on pilgrimages or by having your religious leader focus on religious affairs. You’ll also earn piety through random events, which is true for all three forms of currency in Crusader Kings III.

Claims and war

A king calls upon his allies in Crusader Kings III.

The only way to grow your empire is to declare war on other lands. However, you can only declare war when you have a Casus Belli, or a legal reason. So how do you obtain Casus Bellies and eventually win wars in Crusader Kings III?

Casus Bellies, or claims, are legal reasons you can declare war on another person. In most cases, you’ll use your religious leader to fabricate claims on other lands by selecting the option from your council menu. However, you can also earn claims through expansion and establishing yourself as the Duke (or ruler) of a Duchy.

As mentioned, De Jure means “legally part of.” So, you’ll have legal claims on land that is part of your Duchy if they aren’t already controlled by your Vassal.

In the beginning, you’ll start by fabricating claims on neighboring counties. Once you control more than half of the land in a Duchy, you can call yourself the Duke. Then, you can wage war on other counties, either claiming them for yourself or forcing the current leader to become your Vassal.

You’ll see how your army stacks up against your enemies from the declare war screen. We have over 13,000 troops in the image above compared to his 4,000. However, a chunk of those troops come from our allies, nearly 5,000 and 1,500. Before waging war, make sure your allies are:

  • Not at war themselves.
  • Have a high opinion of you.
  • Aren’t also allied with your target.

Allies won’t attack allies. This mechanic often hurts you, but there’s a way to use it against your enemy. Here’s how:

Hover over your enemy’s allies and determine their strongest one. Then, attempt to form an alliance with them directly or through an arranged marriage. When opting for the marriage route, it usually means marrying one of your children to theirs. If they accept, they won’t join the war on either side. Now, you can call on your other allies to crush the competition.

You win wars by gaining 100% in the war score. Do this by capturing valuable prisoners, winning battles, and sieging holdings. The finer mechanics of war in Crusader Kings III is too much to explain in one section, but here’s what you need to know:

  • If you have a superior army, you’ll usually win. Just make sure your allies agree to join you.
  • Set the game to three-times speed and have the AI manage your army by setting it to automatic under the Military tab.
  • Keep an eye on the war score, which you’ll find by using the bumpers to tab between your active armies, schemes, and wars.
  • Once it’s at 100%, you can enforce your demands. Don’t let the war carry on any longer after reaching a 100% war score.

Succession in Crusader Kings III

A player tries to change their succession laws in Crusader Kings III.

Crusader Kings III is about the long game. Your initial Character will be long forgotten once you assume control of your great-great-grandchildren. Once you die, you’ll pass your titles down to your primary heir, assuming control of them and continuing the game. However, you may lose several titles upon succession, as they’ll go to your other children based on your succession laws.

Succession laws are based on your culture and government. Most operate on either Confederate Partition or standard Partition. In both cases, your titles get divided equally among your children, with your primary heir always getting the main title (or highest title), the realm capital, and any associated De Jure Titles.

You can change these laws by increasing your crown authority, but you’ll need to appease your powerful Vassals and unlock the necessary cultural innovations. Changing succession laws isn’t easy, but there are a few ways around it.

If you only have one heir, they’ll inherit all the titles, for starters. However, this can be dangerous if that heir dies before you do, and you’re thus too old to have more kids. If that happens, the game ends.

Once succession passes, you can determine where your new Character is in line for that particular land. If they’re second in line, you can just murder whoever’s first in line to eventually assume control. Or, kill your way up the succession line until you control the land. This will require time, money, and high intrigue.

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